It has been many years since all of that, but there is still plenty of work to do. I can promise you that the world is a factory. The sun stirs it, the humans rule it. And I remain. I carry them away.
Liesel Meminger lived to a very old age, far away from Molching and the demise of Himmel Street. She died in a suburb of Sydney. The house number was forty-five–the same as the Fielders’ shelter–and the sky was the best blue of afternoon. Like her papa, her soul was sitting up.
In her final visions, she saw her three children, her grandchildren, her husband, and the long list of lives that merged with hers. Among them, lit like lanterns, were Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained the color of lemons forever.
It took three hours in the police station for the mayor and a fluffy-haired woman to show their faces. “Everyone says there’s a girl,” the lady said, “who survived on Himmel Street.” A policeman pointed.
The girl left her hold her hand on top of the accordion case, which sat between them. For four days, she carried around the remains of Himmel Street on the carpets and floorboards of 8 Grande Strasse. She slept a lot and didn’t dream, and on most occasions she was sorry to wake up. Everything disappeared when she was asleep.
There was also a rumor that later in the day, she walked fully clothed into the Amper River and said something very strange.
Something about a kiss.
Something about a Saumensch.
How many times did she have to say goodbye?
One morning, in a renewed state of shock, she even walked back down to Himmel Street to find them, but nothing was left. There was no recovery from what happened. That would take decades; it would take a long life.
There were two ceremonies for the Steiner family. The first was immediately upon their burial. The second was as soon as Alex Steiner made it home, when he was given leave after the bombing. That day, on the steps, Alex Steiner was sawn apart.
Liesel told him that she had kissed Rudy’s lips. It embarrassed her, but she thought he might have liked to know. There were wooden teardrops and an oaky smile. In Liesel’s vision, the sky I saw was gray and glossy. A silver afternoon.
Finally, in October 1945, a man with swampy eyes, feathers of hair, and a clean-shaven face walked into the shop. He approached the counter. “Is there someone here by the name of Liesel Meminger?”
“Yeah, she’s in the back,” said Alex. He was hopeful, but he wanted to be sure. “May I ask who is calling on her?”
Liesel came out. They hugged and cried and fell to the floor.
When I traveled to Sydney and took Liesel away, I was finally able to do something I’d been waiting on for a long time. I put her down and we walked along Anzac avenue, near the soccer field, and I pulled a dusty black book from my pocket.
The old woman was astonished. She took it in her hand and said, “Is this really it?” I nodded.
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race–that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.
* * * A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR * * *
I am haunted by humans.
Isn't that so beautiful and sad? This kind of reminds me of the last bit of the book 'The Emerald Atlas' by John Stephens, in which Emma, one of the 3 main characters, talks to her siblings about the meaning of life and how the best thing you can hope for in your existence is to love someone and to give what you can to keep on moving forwards. (Sorry about this epilogue. It has been shortened a little bit for the writer on the other pages' purposes, and there's nothing I can do about that. However, there is still enough there to give you a good idea of the entire epilogue.)